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Peter Mutharika outlines development plans

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President Peter Mutharika Friday delivered a State of the Nation Address (Sona) which was full of optimism on several areas including economic growth, infrastructure development and food security while warning that complacency must be completely exorcised if these have to be sustainable.

The Sona, which Mutharika made to officially open the 6th Meeting in the 46th Session of Parliament and the 2017/18 Budget meeting, was titled “Harnessing economic gains for sustainable socio-economic development” and focused on what he called his government’s strategic achievements and plans for the next financial year.

It appeared to be a bit of a departure from previous Sonas where Mutharika concentrated much on future plans without providing a clear state of the country’s economy and what had happened with the funds which Parliament had been approving for various developments.

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Mutharika expressed optimism that the economy will continue recovering such that he has projected an estimated real GDP growth rate of between 5 and 6 percent, in anticipation of good maize harvest and strong agricultural season, among others.

On the other hand, the president went back to what observers argue has become the government’s ready excuse when it comes to poor economic performance: adverse weather patterns.

He said: “The country was recently faced with a number of challenges which included prolonged dry spells and floods which contributed to negative growth in agricultural production.”

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Mutharika also admitted that growth in manufacturing, electricity and gas as well as water supply activities in the last two years registered a declining trend, thereby hampering the performance of the private sector, resulting into a real GDP growth rate of only 2.7 percent in 2016.

He then praised the performance of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) in the last growing season, saying key reforms such as increasing private sector participation and fixing the value of fertiliser coupons at K15, 000 ensured efficiency and effectiveness.

“Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government will continue with implementation of Fisp reforms to ensure that the programme is delivered efficiently by specifically strengthening private sector participation in supply, delivery and retailing of inputs across the country,” Mutharika said.

This is despite some stakeholders including the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) and the Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum) lamenting what they called irregularities in the programme.

The president also went ahead to list more of what he said were his government’s achievements in the current financial year and plans for the future.

“Government remains committed to implementing public finance and economic management reforms with a view to improving management of public finances. Mr. Speaker, Sir, among several achievements registered under the Public Finance and Economic Management reforms agenda, Government installed and activated a continuous monitoring tool for the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) during the year under review.

“This is allowing government to detect, in good time, any irregular transactions, and stop the processes before payment is effected. As a result, we are able

to avoid loss of money through fraudulent transactions,” he said.

He also disclosed that commissioners for the National Planning Commission which was established by an Act of Parliament would be announced yesterday afternoon.

When a bill to establish the commission was being debated in Parliament about six months ago, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Goodall Gondwe, argued that it was necessary that the would-be law should be tackled as soon as possible because the commission was supposed to start its operations by January.

However, there has been some silence on the body until Mutharika disclosed in the Sona that it was finally ready to kick-off.

However, Leader of Opposition, Lazarus Chakwera, believes Mutharika made the announcement simply because there has been too much silence on the matter.

The president also said the preliminary crop estimates suggest that the country’s maize production will register an increase of 37.5 percent from 2.4 million metric tons in 2015/16 season to 3.3 million metric tons in 2016/17 season.

On the fight against corruption, Mutharika cited the successful investigations of a total of 200 cases by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) as evidence that his administration is fighting the vice.

“Moving forward, Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government will continue intensifying the fight against corruption by ensuring that offenders are prosecuted accordingly. We will also intensify the measures for the prevention of corruption,” he said.

However, opposition political parties still argue that the fight against corruption in this country cannot be fully won because there apparently are some sacred cows which are being left scot-free even when there is incriminating evidence against them.

Mutharika also said the World Bank’s resumption of direct budgetary support to Malawi is a sign that the global financial institution now has confidence in the country’s public finance management.

“Last night, the World Bank resumed Direct Budget Support to Malawi and they have approved US$ 80 million. This is the first budget support financing approved by the World Bank for Malawi since cashgate. This direct budget support is a vote of confidence in us and how we are managing our economy. We expect more such news from the European Union, the African Development Bank and others,” he said.

But in an interview after Mutharika had delivered the Sona, Chakwera argued that financial management is still a big problem in the country and that the World Bank’s support might be simply because they are sympathising with Malawi’s problems with financing the fiscal plan.

Despite having outlined an ambitious development agenda, Mutharika was quick to state that everything will work only if there is patriotism and collective self-sacrifice, integrity, hard-work and discipline among Malawians.

“We have set the right policies; taken the right steps and set out into the right national direction. What we need is for us to build on what we have begun,” he said.

Meanwhile, leaders of political parties represented in Parliament are expected to respond to the Sona when Parliament reconvenes next week after which all Members of Parliament (MPs) will debate the address.

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